I first saw Prince Diabate perform at an event for the Dalai Lama’s citywide World Festival of Sacred Music held in LA in 1999. I was mesmerized. I was flattened by the cascades and crescendos of celestial sound that flowed from his exuberant kora (West African harp). It sounded like angel tears bursting into fireworks of joy! I felt that I must somehow learn to play this large, exotic 21-stringed instrument of elation. So I approached and requested lessons. Yes! AND… he lived within walking distance. Over time, I was able to accompany him with simple ongoing rhythms for each song. His fingers would explode on his strings in a rapture of melody and poly-rhythms while I desperately clung to consciousness, afraid to drop into the trance that my repetitive patterns might induce. (click here to continue)
The Griot Prince’s Acrostic Interview
TribeLA Magazine: Give yourself and your work a Tagline and tell us why.
Prince Diabate: Kora Beats. Ngoni Grooves
TLA Mag: What got you started in music, which is the Reason you are here with us today?
Prince Diabate: My parents were both griots. When I was very young, I watched my father play and my mother sing and I noted how my father taught my older brother to play the kora, but I was forbidden. So I would pinch my brother’s kora and practice in secret. When I was 8, I seized the moment and played a special song for the late President Sekou Touré during an Independence Day celebration in my hometown, Kindia.
He understood my love of the kora and my ambition so he became my benefactor, enrolling me into the Théâtre National d’Enfants n Conakry (the National Music School). I graduated when I was 16 and left for Abidjan, Ivory Coast to start my career. I have been performing ever since and don’t plan to stop. Musicians like me don’t retire!
TLA Mag: Influence: How do you hope to affect your audience?
Prince Diabate: The role of the griot is storyteller, oral historian and keeper of tradition. With my teaching and my music I try to spread the word about Guinean culture in all its richness and variety. With my future music school, I plan to continue that work with my international students and to pass on the tradition to future generations of Guineans.
My music school will also benefit the older, master musicians in Guinea, who will be there to teach. They often struggle for work and need support. I hope I can help in that area.
TLA Mag: What do you do when your creativity is Blocked?
Prince Diabate: Red wine?
TLA Mag: What fires you up and give’s you Energy?
Prince Diabate: Moments of meditation.
TLA Mag: Can you tell us a Little known fact?
Prince Diabate: When I was 12, I decided to invent a system to maximize my practice time while riding my bike. So I attached string to the handlebars of my bicycle and to my upper arms, leaving my hands free to play the kora while peddling along. To turn left or right, I would simply lean on the string and my bike would turn for me. This worked really well until my mother spotted me one day and put an end to it all. That was a real blow.
TLA Mag: Where is your favorite place in Los Angeles; and why?
Prince Diabate: Ah, El Coyote for the margaritas. I love LA; it’s a surprising city, full of talented, generous people, but you have to find them. Some of my best friends are here. I am an Angelino by adoption!
TLA Mag: How do you make Music? Briefly chronicle your creative process.
Prince Diabate: My compositions are based on my life experience. Ideas just arrive in my head, depending on the moment; sometimes they come to me in my dreams. Because I never learned to read or write music, I hum the music and then record it before it vanishes. I always keep my smart phone by my bed just in case!
TLA Mag: What is coming Up?
Prince Diabate: More performances and teaching in Southern California this year. More construction on The Prince Diabaté Academy of Music, my new music school in Guinea – a real work in progress. In 2019 I am moving back to the US from France, having recorded a new studio album in Paris.
TLA Mag: Describe your Style – musically and otherwise.
Prince Diabate: My music is a bridge between two worlds: the traditional mandingue and the contemporary. It’s rootsy, with modern overtones. A bit like me.
TLA Mag: What is the best advice you’ve received; and the best advice you can Impart to us?
Prince Diabate: From my mother – create your own style, your own signature, but stay true to your roots. From me – choose your friends with care and keep your secrets.
TLA Mag: Any Closing words?
Prince Diabate: “Even if wood stays in the water for 100 years, wood will never become a fish. Wood stays wood.” Mandingue proverb.
Considered to be one of the leading kora players of his generation, Prince Diabaté brings not only total mastery over his ancestral tradition, but a commitment to renew it through fresh ideas and exchanges with musicians from many cultures. His years in the USA produced collaborations with artists and groups as diverse as The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Adam del Monte (Flamenco) Hassan Hakmoun (Gnawa) and Grammy winners Michael Brook (guitarist-producer-composer) and Ozomatli (Hip-Hop fusion.) The musically adventurous griot has incorporated reggae, rap and blues into his work and, further developing his “Jimi Hendrix” technique, also punctuates his work by the occasional, funky use of the wah-wah pedal. Recently, he has adapted the music of the Wassolou to his repertoire, which he plays, self-taught and kora-style, on the kamelen n’goni. The result is entirely his own creation: a fresh, powerful brand of twenty-first century Manden music, which remains strongly rooted in traditional codes and references.
In 2001, he recorded with Ozomatli on “Embrace The Chaos,” their Grammy-winning CD. In 2002, he was a nominee for the LA Weekly Music Awards and the New Times Music Awards. He was also a finalist in the International Acoustic Music Awards for 2004; the Unisong Contest for 2005-2006; the International Songwriting Contest for 2004 & 2005; and took first prize in the 2005 and 2006 Pacific Songwriting Competition. His work has attracted grants from Arts International; Alliance for California Traditional Arts; Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and the Durfee Foundation. Prince Diabate also maintains an active schedule as a lecturer on aspects of Mandinka music. His clients to date include colleges and universities in California, Washington State and New York. He is also sought after for film and television projects in Hollywood. These days Prince Diabate divides his time between France, the USA and Guinea and is often on the move, performing with his group. His recent ventures include three world tours as a special guest with Mamady Keita and his group, Sewa Kan (2009-2011.) In 2014 he recorded his latest album in France, entitled FASO, with Marseille-based guitarist, Jeff Kellner. In 2017 he formed FASO TRIO with Jeff Kellner and drummer/percussionist Ahmad Compaoré. We look forward to seeing what’s in store this year (2018).
At the end of 2013 the Prince Diabate Academy of Music® was officially launched in Guinea. This new academy, the first privately-funded establishment in Guinea, is the result of Prince Diabate’s desire to create an international music school specializing in stringed instruments and traditional flute. Thanks to the encouragement of government ministers, construction is underway and the foundation stone was laid in December 2013.
Visit Prince Diabate’s website at: http://princediabate.com